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so you’re starting your first year? by Kanokwan T. '25

boy do i have unsolicited tips for you

This week, I worked as an Orientation Leader (OL) to help first year students acclimate to MIT. It was a fun, high-energy job. Every OL was assigned around 13 students, and I quite liked my crew. Throughout the week, I saw people open up more to each other and really talk. Like petals of a flower, the people of my orientation group seemed to blossom. 

As I spent much of my time around first years, I found myself giving copious amounts of unsolicited advice. Even if they didn’t ask for help nor prompt the discussion at all,01 😅 ahahaha sorry not sorry I had many tips to share, so I thought to pass them along to the blogs, too. I guess other class years could also benefit from this tip list, but it’s largely written with first years in mind. This is in no way a comprehensive list, but there should be at least one useful tip. Think of this less as a “how to do MIT” and more like a “here is a hodgepodge of advice that will hopefully maybe possibly make your MIT life better.”


  1. Hold onto your 101 Things To Do Before You Graduate List, in case you find yourself on one evening trying to think of something fun to do. I know people who’ve regretted losing theirs. The list has some really wonderful local, well-thought-out activities. Consider highlighting ones that you accomplish as you go through these four years.
  2. Make time to wander around. MIT has a lot of funny corners, and maybe you’ll stumble upon your new favorite spot. 
  3. Complete MakerLodge. This is the Project Manus maker training program, made specifically for first year students. By completing it, you get a free Arduino, toolbox filled with tools, MakerLodge T-shirt, and MakerBucks ($50 stipend for maker supplies). This program is not available after your first year,02 </span><span style="font-weight: 400">To clarify, upperclassmen can still do the exact same activities included in the program, but they just wouldn’t receive the free stuff. so get it in sometime this year. FYI: It takes a few weeks for us to publish our maker calendar (last year, there were 50 mentors, which is a lot to coordinate). Also, because I’m a Project Manus Mentor, you may even see me at an orientation or training! If you mention you’ve read this blog, I’ll show you some of my favorite secret art around the maker space. :)
  4. Download Splitwise and Venmo, because you will be sharing costs with people at some point. I swear by Splitwise for group transactions. I use Venmo to actually process payments and Splitwise to calculate cumulative group payments.
  5. Skim through the full course catalog. No, this doesn’t mean you have to read every single page, instead get a sense of what classes are offered in each major. What sounds cool to you? What major do you tend towards? Any HASS (humanities, arts, and social sciences) classes stick out? I think casting your net wide and observing what you find yourself interested in is a good way to really figure out what you want to do. Your interests may (and probably will) evolve with time, but, regardless, this is a good tool to employ.
  6. Get a Harvard library card,03 scroll to the bottom of the <a href="*hmlmtp*_ga*MTkwMTQzNTY2LjE2OTM3MTE0MzY.*_ga_3CXC97RWEK*MTY5MzcxMTQzNS4xLjEuMTY5MzcxMTQ2Mi4zMy4wLjA.#access-cards" target="_blank" rel="noopener">site.</a> we‘re classified under “Ivy Plus and BorrowDirect”  because it’s a means to a good escape out of the MIT bubble for studying. It’s a bit of a process, but a short one. I had to apply online, book an appointment, go in-person to get my identity verified and photo taken, and ta-da: out popped a Harvard ID! It’s also just cool to have some custom memorabilia from that other school in Cambridge.
  7. Try every dining hall, so that you can gauge which ones you like most and get a spacial sense of most dorms. 
  8. Make a list of all clubs that you have any ounce of interest in. Join their mailing list. Drop by one of their meetings. What do you have to lose? See if it fits your vibe. I think casting your net wide during freshman year is helpful in feeling self-assured with deciding your commitments. Also, this is the time to explore, so do make use of it. Of course, exploring is a large part of life as a whole, but freshman year is especially fruitful for it.
  9. Get your physical MIT ID. You can get them at any kiosk. I don’t understand why the institute didn’t print them by default this year (it’s been printed every year I’ve been here so far). Your phone may be glitchy or out of battery, so mobile ID would be bust. Maybe you want to tap onto the bus or subway with a CharlieCard, which is built into the handheld ID. Some businesses may only apply a student discount if they see the physical card. It’s also nice to have as a knick knack. Plenty of reasons to get one.
  10. Think of one thing you can look forward to every morning. It can literally be anything. A cup of tea? A good stretch? Opening up the windows? On tougher days, it’s nice to have at least one thing to help get you out of bed.
  11. Check out the gym. All students get a complimentary full gym membership (whereas it’s ~$100/month normally), so one shouldn’t take it for granted. I know I’ve felt the difference when having to pay for the gym out-of-pocket while interning abroad this past summer. You can try out swimming on the weekends with friends, walking with an incline on the treadmill, or whatever else feels good to you. If working out is a bit intimidating, the Engineer Your Health Plus Program may be a good place to start. And, maybe the gym just isn’t for you, which is chill, but at least see what’s available to you.
  12. Set aside a weekly time to do your chores. Sometimes, time can slip by and the lingering laundry pile can grow into a monstrous one. That can be avoided. 
  13. Don’t be afraid to say no to a party. Parties will always happen. But, tonight will only happen once. Your time is precious, and if you don’t feel like going, that’s totally fine and perfectly normal. Some nights are for sipping some tea, lighting a candle, and binging your favorite show, at least I know some of mine are. 
  14. Reach out if you need help. This one sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised. In the past, I know I have certainly done a lot of mental gymnastics to get out of asking anyone for help. Here are some examples of thoughts I’ve had: If I ask for help, that’ll show that I’m weak. I won’t do it. If I ask for help, it shows I’m not doing enough. I’ll just work harder. If I ask for help, I’ll just be an annoying bother to whoever I ask. I’ll just keep it to myself. If I ask for help, it shows I’m not cut out to be at MIT. I have to prove that I can do it myself. In retrospect, the logic is kinda funny because asking for help actually does the opposite of what these thoughts claim: asking for help is an act of strength in taking care of yourself, a means of working smarter instead of harder, and a display of being a resourceful MIT student. The resources MIT offers didn’t just come out of thin air; they’re there for a reason. You can start with asking anyone: a friend, blogger (we really do respond to our blog emails 👉🏼👈🏼), associate advisor, TA (teaching assistant), GRA (graduate resident advisor), advisor, professor, S^3 (student support services), SMHCS (student mental health and counseling services), among many other options. Please. I’m begging you. Ask. For. Help. You’ll need it. We all do. 

I hope you found some nuggets of wisdom in there. As you’ve probably already heard a bazillion times before, welcome to MIT. We’re so lucky to have you.


P.S. if other upperclassmen have unsolicited (well, I guess now solicited) tips to share, please drop some in the comments below!

  1. 😅 ahahaha sorry not sorry back to text
  2. To clarify, upperclassmen can still do the exact same activities included in the program, but they just wouldn’t receive the free stuff. back to text
  3. scroll to the bottom of the site. we‘re classified under “Ivy Plus and BorrowDirect” back to text